Bisexual Women in Film From the Early 1990s to Today


While bisexual women are now somewhat less likely to be portrayed in films as homicidal sex fiends, they are still unlikely to be shown in a positive, or even realistically human, light. Making them out to be devious and malicious is a timeworn tactic that shows no signs of waning.

The industry seems far more willing to portray bisexual women as homicidal sex fiends than daring to present them as good-natured, happy-go-lucky or even ordinary.

Bisexuality as sign of a tormented soul and hindrance to ultimate fulfillment is another popular theme in big-budget movies.

In The Hours (2002) the stories of three women in three time periods who are all somehow connected to Mrs. Dalloway — a character from a Virginia Woolf novel who presents a brave face to the world but harbors deep regrets with life and love. Mrs. Dalloway’s highest moment of passion is a single kiss shared with a female friend, much like suburban 1950s housewife Laura (Julianne Moore).

All three of the film’s characters have experienced attraction to both men and women within their lifetimes. Laura shows more love for a female friend than for her husband, suggesting her unhappiness might be a result of compulsory heterosexuality.

Woolf herself (Nicole Kidman, with a now-legendary prosthetic nose) is ultimately unsatisfied with her marriage and with her life, and, unfortunately, shares a kiss with her sister. And present-day Manhattanite Clarissa (Meryl Streep), is in a lesbian relationship, raising a daughter (Claire Danes) with her partner (Allison Janney) but still in love with a former lover (Ed Harris), who is now dying of AIDS. The film links each woman’s depression to their sexuality, which is a source of struggle.

Then there are the plethora of movies in which bisexuality seems tossed in for no apparent reason beyond titillation.

In The Haunting (1999), for example, one character’s (Catherine Zeta-Jones) bisexuality is implied in the beginning of the film and never addressed again, aside from a few innuendo-laced glances at Lili Taylor’s character.

Similarly, in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) we discover that Kate (Christine Taylor) is bisexual when she announces it late in the movie, apropos of nothing.

In both instances, the characters share a meaningless kiss with another woman despite otherwise showing an attraction to men. It implies they are bisexual but in a gratuitous way, where it serves no ostensible purpose except perhaps to make the character seem somehow sexier.

Bisexuality often functions in mainstream movies as a way to raise a woman’s coolness quotient, suggesting she is particularly daring or edgy, with both positive and negative results.

In 2002, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko, whose work includes High Art and several episodes of The L Word, brought us LaurelCanyon. In it, a sexied-up Frances McDormand plays a 40-something hotshot record producer who — in addition to having a rock-star lover (Alessandro Nivola) half her age — seduces her son’s sheltered fiancee (Kate Beckinsale).

While the film might have bolstered the stereotype of the bisexual woman who preys on younger women (as in Personal Best), here McDormand’s character is secure in her bisexual identity, and Beckinsale is seduced by a whole world she’s never known, which can only partly be attributed to her bi-curiosity.

In a similar vein, Prey for Rock & Roll (2003) features lesbian icon Gina Gershon (who has played queer in both Showgirls and Bound) starring as Jacki, a 40-year-old would-be rock star who is bisexual. Her Clam Dandy bandmates are played by Drea de Matteo, Shelly Cole, and Lori Petty (whose character is a lesbian).

In this film, Gershon fans are treated to a hot but humorous sex scene she shares with Shakara Ledard, and viewers in general are treated to a film that has a fluid approach to sexuality and depicts it as just one aspect of the multi-layered characters — without fanfare or ulterior motive.

But Laurel Canyon and Prey for Rock & Roll are in the minority when it comes to movies that casually include themes of bisexuality.

It is more common to find bisexuality employed as a way to take a character’s propensity for sexual adventure up a notch.

In movies like Basic Instinct, Wild Things (1998), starring Neve Campbell and Denise Richards), Pretty Persuasion, and When Will I Be Loved (2004), bisexual characters are seen making out with or having sex with a woman to indicate they are superfreaks.

Vera in When Will I Be Loved has spur-of-the-moment sex with a female friend, which is just one of the indicators that she’s a “wild thing” in this movie, too. It serves the dubious purpose of establishing Vera’s sensuality, bottomless desire and hidden complexity.

In 2004′s Head in the Clouds, bisexual Gilda (Charlize Theron) gets involved in a love triangle with her boyfriend Guy (Stuart Townsend) and her female roommate Mia (Penelope Cruz) in 1930s war-torn Europe. But the women’s relationship is always positioned secondarily to, and framed by, her relationship to Guy, and seems to exist primarily as just another way to mark Gilda as “modern”.

In these cases, bisexuality is a mark of being highly sexed, and same-sex encounters positioned as especially sexy.

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